MARINE CORPS AIR STATION NEW RIVER, N.C., April 1, 2008 – After the last of the “surge brigades” redeploy, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would like to continually assess conditions on the ground in Iraq. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters today that recent increased fighting in Basra and Baghdad has not changed recommendations to continue with the current plan.

The plan calls for 15 U.S. brigade combat teams to be left in Iraq at the end of July. At the height of the surge there were 20. “We’ve all talked about a period of consolidation and assessment, and I think there’s wisdom in that in we’ve made a fairly dramatic shift in our overall force structure there, and we need to see — based on what happens after that — how we move ahead,” Mullen said. “I would like to continuously assess the conditions on the ground as far as how we would look at future force employment.”

He noted that defense leaders spend a large amount of their time assessing the situation. “It’s this continuous assessment that I think will drive us to the next decision point,” he said. “I can’t tell you whether it’s going to be two weeks after the fifth brigade comes out or whether it is six weeks or eight weeks. I honestly don’t know.”

That, in a nutshell, is what conditions-based assessments are about: trends in security and whether conditions are holding or changing, he said.

Assessments in Washington, at U.S. Central Command and in Baghdad are constant and event-driven, he said. “Part of the major reasons for the surge was to create a security environment in which the economy could thrive, governance could start to set up and, probably most importantly, political reconciliation could take place,” he said. “All those factors are still there. The surge has provided markedly increased level of security, and my expectations are that those other elements need to continue to progress.”

Mullen said the discussions the Joint Chiefs of Staff held with President Bush at the Pentagon last week were wide-ranging and far-reaching.

“When the Basra violence came up in the past week, I was asked on a couple of occasions if this will impact future decisions,” he said. “First of all, it’s too soon to tell, but certainly, a sustained violence level has great focus from a strategic point of view.”

The chairman also spoke about his concerns about operations in Afghanistan. “We have been short of forces in Afghanistan,” he said. “I’ve called it an ‘economy of force’ campaign.”

President Bush is attending the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, this week, and Afghanistan will be a large part of the discussion. Mullen said that more forces are needed in Afghanistan, even after the United States deployed 3,200 Marines to the country.

But the real need is not combat forces, Mullen said. “The Joint Chiefs are focused on generating trainers so we can train the Afghan police and the security forces in a way that they can take control and take charge of their own security,” he said.

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